This week I will be a bit different, not that this column is ever the same. This week, I went through the Rwanda genocide, yes, I stepped back into the past and it was a trip I would not wish on anyone. Not even my worst enemy. I had gone for a serious meeting and found a friend of mine called Aggie squeezing onto a piece of tissue as she held a book a little far from her face. She kept blinking back tears and I just watched her for a minute wondering why, if the book was upsetting her so much, she didn’t simply put it down and get let the rest of us get on with our serious dry -eyed session. She told me that it was a new inspiring book that was a must read for all. And not being one to be out-done – I went out in search for a copy of the book ‘Left to Tell’. Here are my impressions of it`:
Immaculee Ilibagiza a Tutsi Rwandese begins her story from happier times when there was innocence and tribelessness. She talks about her family, her love for them and their love for her. She tells of the respect her father, a schoolteacher had in this community, how her parents went to great lengths to be helpful to all their neighbours. She shares about the bursting of that bubble, when one of her teacher punished her for not knowing her tribe. She tells about the continued tribal role calls all through primary and how the system worked to keep the Tutsi minority out of higher education institutions and the best jobs. She talks about her father’s sacrifices to make sure she gets the best education, and the support from her three brothers and mother who believed in her. Immaculee makes it, and becomes one of the few Tutsi women to ever make it to State University. Then on an Easter weekend while at home visiting with her family, the genocide hits her village. In a week everything changes. She survives death by hiding in a bathroom, which she shares for ninety-one days with seven other women. In the midst of the bleakness that sees kind neighbours turn into murderous monsters, she finds God, in a way she never did.
Immaculee’s account is one of how she perceived the genocide, how it affected her and how she affected it. Her account is about God, how she met him in a different way in that bathroom, how He kept her sane, and alive. She finds space in cramped quarters and strength in spite of her wasted body by finding time and space for God. In doing this, she allows herself to feel everything. She shares about the pain of discovering that her closest friends, who until the genocide had been tribeless, turned on her, and developed a callousness that added to her loss. She talks about her own struggle with bitterness and hatred, even against the pastor that kept her safe. She says how she struggled against the loud nerve-wracking voice of the devil and got herself to the point where in listening to God, she was able to advise her fellow captures with confidence. She shares how God taught her to view those who killed her family with compassion and add true forgiveness. She shared how that forgiveness made grief more bearable, and healing definite. Her faith and forgiveness made things possible that would have in other circumstances been otherwise. This is a book for everyone who has been badly hurt by someone, anyone who says they cannot forgive. It is a book that will challenge, break, and comfort you.
If like me, you have never sat down to truly take in what happened in Rwanda, you will feel like you were there with Immaculee. She also includes sixteen pages of treasured family photographs that she retrieved from her college room. The best thing about this book is the happy ending or should I say they new beginnings, though laced with pain. Because this account is bound to traumatise you, even though the writers do their best to lay it down gently, I like the fact that she ends with hope. A new family, a new country, a new job, and an ever-vibrant relationship with a very real God. This book will gaud from you, the freedom that comes with forgiveness – both the giving and receiving of it. With all honesty I can say that no other book I have read this year, has had the profound effect that this one has had on me. And just so you all know, I sat through the night and read was in so much pain I only allowed the tears to flow, properly, when she said to the man who chopped up her mum in pieces ‘I forgive you.’ A statement I echo to anyone who has hurt me.
First Published on The Sunday Standard, December 10, 2005